I’m back in Seattle for year 3 of my annual West Coast tour, which consists of visiting my sister and her brood in Seattle, and giving a workshop at Pacific Science Center (note there is no “The” at the beginning of the label, which I find kind of odd.) Last year my “tour” was Seattle & Portland for the workshop “Wiring the Brain for Mathematics: Neuroscience & Numeracy,” and I so much positive feedback that I thought I should surely return with a workshop on Math Anxiety, which is a kind of sequel, in that it focuses squarely on the connections between math and the emotions. As I stated in the workshop, mathematics is the most emotional subject taught in school, because it is the one that makes us question our “intelligence” each day.

There was a smaller group this year, about 30 teachers from as far away as Orcas Island and Bridgeport, out on the Eastern Plains; many of them were veterans of the “Wiring the Brain” workshop in 2010 and ’11, so it was comforting to see some familiar faces.

**Highlights of Seattle’s “Math Anxiety” Workshop**

Of course, the wonderful energy, humor and thoughtfulness that the participants bring. I was really taken by the kindess and respect shown to one of our members who had a hearing deficit and asked people to stand while asking questions and adding comments.

At one point during the workshop, we discussed the idea of math having lots of “rules,” and I brought up the change I made to my practice recently to eliminate the use of the word “rule” when describing a process in mathematics. I asked why I would eschew the term “rule” in mathematics, and we discussed the idea that rules often seem authoritarian and arbitrary, as well as emanating from a “higher power.” Instead I suggested that we use the word “property” in place, in order to emphasize that mathematics is a system, and that as this system developed, it was found to have certain characteristics that are known as “properties.” For example, the number 6 has certain properties: it is even, it is divisible by 1, 2 and 3, and it is the first perfect square number.

During lunch I happened to sit with Cheryl for a bit, and we examined some of her students’ papers and discussed the idea of how her third graders understood the process of creating equivalent fractions through the use of a “rule.” Clearly, the word “property” would not be a good term to replace this; we agreed that thinking about this as a “method” would be more appropriate, in the same way we would teach any other process, like baking a cherry pie or cleaning a bassoon.

All of which brings to mind a way to sum up this idea of replacing authoritarian language with more descriptive language: **There are no “rules” in mathematics:** **there are properties and methods. **Perhaps we need to put this idea front and center by titling our courses and textbooks that way: **Mathematics: Properties & Methods.”**